Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Onions & The Art of Seduction

She was sitting on the step outside the fire exit to our classroom, waiting for her mates to arrive. I could feel my heart beating fast and I felt out of breath like I’d been running. She didn’t look up from her book.

“Do you want to hear a joke?”

“Get your breath back first.” She’d noticed me, but she still didn’t look up.

“It’s about an onion.”

“Go on then.” And she still didn’t look up.

“Well. There’s this onion, a young lad onion. He lives with his family in a big house on the Underchurch Road.”

Now she looked up. “The one you can’t see from the road because it’s got a line of fir trees against the front wall?”

When you’re talking to girls, Bolley says, tell them things they want to hear. “Er…yeah. The one with the fir trees. That one.”

“My aunt lives there. I haven’t seen any onions.” She was staring very hard at the step now, like she was reading her words from off of it.

Just make stuff up if you have to. “It was a long time ago.”

“Like, before we were born?”

“Yeah. Before we were born. Before the war.”

“Which war?” This wasn’t fair. She wouldn’t look at me while I was trying to tell the joke, and she wouldn’t stop looking at me when she asked questions I couldn’t answer.

The war.” She looked back down at the concrete, pressed her lips together very hard and said nothing. Anyway, the baby onion…”

“Baby? You said he was a young lad onion.”

Never lose your cool. “Shit, just listen to the joke, will you?” And (would you believe it?) that’s when she gave me the smile. I suppose I must have smiled back because I forgot I was telling the joke. She raised her eyebrows.

“So?…The baby onion?”

“The onion. Yeah. He liked football.” Girls like details. Give them loads of details. “Every afternoon he would rush home and change into his Everton kit.” She was supposed to smile again at this point, say that Everton were her team, but she didn’t. Maybe she was just getting into the story. “He used to go out in the garden and practise his ball skills, juggle it from foot to foot and that, whack it up in the air and bring it down on his foot.” I mimed it for her. “He couldn’t trap it on the back of his neck, though, because…”

“Because onions don’t have necks?”

“Because it’s dead diffic…Yeah, actually he didn’t have much of a neck.” She looked pleased about that.

“Anyway, one day, while he was playing in the rain, he lost control of the ball because his boots were all wet, and it flew out onto the road. So he…”

“Underchurch Road?”


“Over those tall, tall pine trees?”

“Er…yeah. It was before the war, remember. They were only little then.”

“Like the tiny onion.” And she made that “ahhh” sound that girls make when they see a little baby or a picture of a koala bear or something.

“Mmm. Anyway…he ran out onto the road to get the ball back. Now, because he was always playing football and never watched television, he didn’t know about the Green Cross Code…”

“Probably because onions don’t cross roads.”

“Sometimes they do.” Her crumpled face crumpled even more when I said that. But she was listening carefully now. “Anyway…”

“You keep saying that: ‘anyway’.”

“Yeah. Anyway, the young onion legs it out into the road without looking and WHUM – this ginormous lorry smacks into him and knocks him down. The driver stops and jumps out and runs to the phone box…”


“There was a phone box. Just outside the house. It was red. Anyway…anyways, the ambulance arrives and they put him on a stretcher. He’s unconscience and…”

“He’s what?”

“Unconscience. Like when you get knocked out.”


“So…they take him to hospital. Then, well, his dad comes home from work…”

“What does he do?”

“Like, what’s his job, you mean? He’s…er…a teacher.”

“Does he teach onions or children?”

“Onions. There’s no way they’d let him teach children.” Sometimes girls can be really stupid.

“I suppose…” She looked a bit sad, like she thought it would be good to have an onion for a teacher. “So what happened then?”

“Him and Young Onion’s mam rush to the hospital but they aren’t allowed to see him because the doctors are doing an operation, so they just sit there and walk up and down, and his mam cries a bit…”

“Onions make me cry, too.” You could tell she wasn’t trying to spoil the joke or to be funny. She just said it because it came into her head.

“Any…So, at three o’clock in the morning the boss doctor comes out of the room and he won’t look at them. The mam onion starts crying again and the dad onion goes all pale, like, and he says to the doctor: ‘He’s dead, isn’t he?’ And the doctor looks up and says…” Always do a little pause before the punchline to make sure they’re listening.

She looked up at me and put on this kind of posh voice: “He’s not dead, but I’m afraid he’s going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life.” Then she looked back down at her book.

From The Wooden-Legged Elephant, Amazon KDP, 2012

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Young Naturalist's Guide to the Football Animal

In the breeding season, the Chelsea fan (chavus opportunisticus) performs an elaborate courting ritual, preening its cash and bleating loudly. Then, for reasons still unclear to zoologists, before insemination is complete, the beast turns on and devours its bemused mate. Owing to its poor genetic heritage, the species is thought to be ill-equipped to survive the predicted imminent moulting of its bank-notes.

The Evertonian (toffeis magnificus) is easily recognisable on account of its unfailing loyalty and attachment to its young, which are much-prized by predators. Recent School of Science experiments have revealed that the distinctive blue and white markings of this noble, intelligent creature serve to ward off investors.

Easily distinguishable by the large amounts of spawn it produces throughout the year, the Liverpudlian (smuggus frustratus) is currently the object of an in-depth study by psychologists seeking to shed light on the characteristic whine it emits every thirty seconds in the months between August and May. The young feed on stale crumbs brought from ever-diminishing stores by older adults or on (fortunately still abundant) delusions of grandeur. Although rarely seen nowadays in mainland Europe, the “Koppite” still infests many areas of the British Isles, largely thanks to the untiring work of the Red Referees Association, which is dedicated to the propagation of the species.

Manchester City
Traditionally an object of pity and/or derision for other animals in the jungle, the City supporter (nuvor richus) has recently enjoyed a resurgence thanks to a Middle Eastern initiative for the conservation of trophy-deficient species. The controversial grafting of an Argentine gene onto the DNA of the richus, a move designed to enable the creature to evolve more rapidly, is now thought by some scientists to be responsible for both the sudden decline of its pack instinct and its apparent disorientation when away from its lair.

Manchester United
According to the WWF, the Man U Fan (diabolus ruber) is unique in that it is incapable of producing song, a defect thought to derive from its tendency to eschew traditional grassy pastureland in favour of shady prawn sandwich groves. The “Red Devil” is widespread throughout Asia and the United Kingdom, with the exception of the Merseyside area, where – owing to its peculiar genetic make-up – it is unable to survive more than a few hours.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Mediterranean Scallies

While most climate scientists these days are preoccupied with melting glaciers and the thinning of the permafrost, a small but growing number of global warming experts are currently expressing concern at a more recent but equally alarming phenomenon first observed in the Adriatic port town of Bari: the fattening of the scally.

The species, which is now widespread across Europe, was first identified by explorers in some of the remoter housing estates on Merseyside in the late 1970s. Distinguishable by their glossy coats, scrawny build and stolen footwear, scallies quickly became a focus of attention for zoologists in the North West. Professor Ivor Traynee from the University of Norris Green recalls his first face-to-face encounters with the creatures: “We’d been observing them in the wild for quite some time, of course, but they are elusive animals, adept at disappearing over fences and down side alleyways, and I didn’t get the chance to engage with a specimen at close quarters until mid-1980. One of the local rangers had managed to bring down a wounded 15-year-old with a tranquilliser dart, and the Observation Pen at Bidston Magistrates Court was abuzz with expectation. I can still remember the gasp from the assembled scientists when its Adidas pouch broke open and a flock of knock-off T-shirts flew out.”

In his seminal work, Scallius Erectus – Darwin Was Wrong, Peter Busy, head of Garston’s award-winning wildlife reserve and one of the world’s leading authorities on scally behaviour, describes a typical day in the life of a young male. “The Scallius cub rarely or never emerges from its burrow before dawn, perhaps, some experts surmise, because the early morning dew is notoriously damaging to the fibres of its shell-suit. Morning feeding tends to be a solitary affair: emitting guttural grunts intended to warn off humans bent on civilized discourse, the creature grazes morosely on burning tobacco and slakes its thirst at the nearest lager-hole. After urinating and/or defecating on open land – a deliberately ostentatious territorial gesture – the scally will then emit higher pitched barks as it seeks out fellow pack members. Paradoxically, although surly and aggressive towards mankind, the packs tend to congregate in the areas most frequented by human beings (shopping centres, entrances to railway stations, bus stops, etc). Lean and hungry-looking, the young males snarl and skit, their eyes darting from side to side in search of opportunities for mischief.”

What is worrying the scientists monitoring scally activity in Italy is that rising temperatures appear to be having a dramatic effect on the animal’s physical development, behaviour and survival rate. “Whereas twenty-five years ago the average full-grown scally weighed in at 140 pounds, we have been encountering 12-year-old cubs that are already tipping the scales at over 200,” says Professor Barry Borsa of the Italian Wideboy National Research Centre. “This means that even before puberty many are too porky and slow to be able to effect a successful bag-snatch and make their getaway; we have even come across cases of 'motorised snatchers' (a local subspecies) being so heavy that their scooters buckle under their weight making them easy prey for marauding police squads. All of which obviously has grave implications for the crime chain, not only at a local level, but ultimately throughout Europe and beyond.”

Even more disturbing, the Professor points out, is the effect of what he calls “fat bastard warming”: the concentration of a high number of lard-arsed specimens in one area leads to the sun’s rays being unable to bounce back from the ground and up into the atmosphere. “A remarkable amount of energy becomes trapped just below gut level as the rays encounter a stratum of blubber,” explains Professor Borsa. As a result, average temperatures in the inner city and in the dodgier suburbs have risen by an alarming 3% since 2009, and local environmental groups have been urging both the Italian government and the European Commission to take action. “One of the biggest problems we face is that of ‘fat bastard denial’”, points out the head of Bari’s ‘Save Our Criminals’ association, which, via a series of initiatives in schools and the community, is attempting to improve young scallies’ eating habits. “There are too many vested interests in play here. The Crap Food Consortium, for example, provides illicit subsidies to scientists willing to argue the case against the key role played by fat lads in global warming.”

Back in Norris Green, Professor Traynee issues a sombre warning: “This double whammy of scallies continuing to put on weight and temperatures steadily climbing is going to mean serious trouble in the years to come: the resulting rise in sweat levels will ultimately lead to the submerging and disappearance of many coastal and lowland areas. If we don’t act now, future generations of scallies will run a real risk of getting their gear all wet.”